DEAR AMY: Recently, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. We began daily radiation and weekly chemotherapy treatments. We are both self-employed, and so we have some flexibility in our scheduling, but it has been a lot to handle. My wife’s mother and her family have been enormously supportive. We have lots of friends who are there for us, too. My family, however, has been less so. In fact, they have not helped at all. They don’t even text me to find out how we are doing. I don’t require much, but a weekly text just to send love and support would be nice. Even better would be if they offered to help. Last week my siblings spent the better part of two days going back and forth over dozens of group texts, discussing which cars we’d had growing up. I kept thinking to myself, how is it that they can send dozens of texts about something as trivial as what kind of cars we had during our childhood, but cannot reach out and say, “Hey, Sis, I’m thinking about you.” I really want to leave this anger behind, and if that means letting go of these relationships, then I suppose I can do that. My guess is that I am in a hyper-sensitive state and don’t want to lash out during this phase. Am I being unreasonable?
DEAR UPSET: On the one hand, this group text was a real-world reminder that life goes on (for others) during personal crises.
If you felt less ignored by your siblings, you might see this text exchange as a welcome respite. But you do feel ignored, and so this was a reminder that this group of people does not “see” you as you want to be seen right now.
During the group text exchange, you could have replied: “Guys, I know this is fun, but my wife has cancer. We are overwhelmed, and so I’m finding this car conversation tough to take. Not one of you has even asked about her!”
If you had done this, your siblings might have used your statement to alienate you even further (“Wow, what a Debbie Downer!”), but they would have at least been put on notice as a group that you are expecting more from them.
Many people do not know how to behave during a health crisis. It is a frequent topic in this column. And yes, cancer can definitely show you who your real friends are. But before you give up on your entire family, show them the way.
You can set up a caringbridge.org site to update friends and family, or ask individuals specifically for what you need: “Are you available to go with ‘Melinda’ for her radiation treatment one day next week? The treatment itself only takes about 10 minutes, but she is tired afterward. We would both appreciate it.”
DEAR AMY: My sister, who has been married for over 50 years, just divulged that her husband is looking at porn online, including disturbing sites. I’ve told her repeatedly to talk to a counselor, but so far, she hasn’t. Amy, I have my own family issues. I want to be helpful, but I wouldn’t even know where to start. How do I get her to stop telling me all this personal stuff? My brother-in-law has always been a good guy in my book, so how do I handle this?
DEAR UPSET: You want your sister to stop divulging “personal stuff.”
She might be thinking, “If I can’t tell my own sister personal stuff, then who can I tell?”
I understand that this disclosure should be filed under: TMI (Too Much Information), because it concerns someone you have known for 50 years and also have to see around the holiday table. It feels like a burden to hold such intimate knowledge about someone.
I hope you will tell your sister, “I’m so sorry this is happening, but I can’t think of a way to help you through it. Can I help you to find a counselor to talk to?” (Check psychologytoday.com for a database of therapists in her ZIP code.)
DEAR AMY: A response for “Unhappy Camper in Florida,” whose husband had been contacted by a biological daughter (and three grandkids) he never knew he had. He should definitely take a paternity test, just to confirm things.
DEAR SKEPTICAL: This wasn’t mentioned in the original letter, so I took it as a given, but I agree that he should confirm his paternity.